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Culture Children's Books

Journeys of discovery

Children’s Books

Journeys of discovery

Four middle grade novels

The Battle of Seattle

Douglas Bond

In 1855, tensions run high in the Pacific Northwest, which makes William Tidd’s friendship with Native American Charlie Salitat unusual. Although Tidd is the primary caretaker for his younger sister, he joins a citizen militia intent on finding a dangerous Nisqually chief and averting all-out bloodshed. Bond offers plenty of action and historical detail in this novel based on real events from the Battle of Seattle. Tidd wrestles with his father’s passed-down transcendentalist beliefs versus an older black neighbor’s Christian faith. While Bond captures the period’s inherent racism, young readers may find it troubling. (Ages 10-12)

Beyond the Bright Sea

Lauren Wolk

At age 12, “Crow” knows that as a baby she was on a skiff that washed ashore in the Elizabeth Islands off the coast of Massachusetts. A lonely man with a hidden past raises her as his own with the help of a stout spinster neighbor. Crow’s search to uncover her origins leads her to a nearby island, once a leper colony, where she finds peril that disrupts her placid life. Newbery honoree Lauren Wolk’s writing provides a feast for the imagination, but this novel, set in the 1920s, sometimes moves slowly and leaves unanswered questions. (Ages 10-12)

A Forest, a Flood, & an Unlikely Star

J.A. Myhre

Kusiima’s mother died and his father left, so at age 13 he works long hours, forgoing education and pleasure to care for his grandmother and ailing sister. Suddenly he finds himself in the center of an illegal logging ring. A series of decisions reveal his bitterness and offer a chance to reconcile his past. The third installment in Myhre’s Rwendigo Tales presents another rich slice of African culture and realities: AIDS, rebel threats, malnutrition, and environmental destruction. Writing in an age-appropriate way, Myhre helps readers see that brokenness is “a part of our story,” but not the end of it. (Ages 8-12)

Vincent and Theo: The Van Gogh Brothers

Deborah Heiligman

To know the world-famous painter Vincent van Gogh, one must know his younger brother Theo. The two looked alike and shared a lasting bond, but they had opposite habits and personalities. Art dealer Theo was quiet and steady. Vincent was sociable, erratic, and in today’s terms, bipolar. Heiligman draws from hundreds of their letters to paint a portrait of their family life and fraternal bond through many highs and lows. Parents should know these lows include trips to brothels and mingling with prostitutes, leading both brothers to contract STDs, the cause of Theo’s death. Vincent’s vices ultimately lead to his suicide. (Ages 15 and up)

Handout

A quilt from the collection (Handout)

Afterword

For generations the African-American women in Gee’s Bend, Ala., handmade vibrant quilts to keep their families warm. Susan Goldman Rubin’s The Quilts of Gee’s Bend (Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2017) brings to life a story of grandmothers, mothers, and aunts, dating back to the 19th-century plantation workers, passing on their craft to young daughters. The women created stunning geometric designs, often dreaming up the patterns while lurching over cotton plants. They used flour sacks, work shirts, cotton, and corduroy: “You threw nothing away.”

The book, geared for ages 8-14, includes full-color pictures of Gee’s Bend quilts and numerous color and black-and-white photos. Young artists may find inspiration with a how-to “Make a Quilt Square” section. Rubin interweaves history of slavery, the New Deal, and the civil rights movement with an account of how Gee’s Bend quilters became famous: “They didn’t think of themselves as artists.” —M.J.